This picture shows the shape and size of the orbit of Comet Wild 2. The comet's orbit is aqua. You can also see the orbits of Jupiter, Mars, and Earth.
Click on image for full size
Comet Wild 2
Comet Wild 2 is named after the scientist who discovered it. Paul Wild
is an astronomer from Switzerland who discovered the comet in January
1978. Wild 2 is pronounced "Vilt 2".
It takes the comet a little more than
six years to go around the Sun once. That is a pretty
short time for a comet.
more than 100 years to go around the Sun one time! The orbit of the comet
is not a circle. Its orbit is shaped more like an oval, which astronomers
call an ellipse. When the comet is at one end of the ellipse it is as
close to the Sun as it gets. When it is at the other end, it is far from
the Sun. The orbit of Wild 2 brings it a bit closer to the Sun than the
planet Mars. The orbit also swings the
comet out beyond the orbit of Jupiter.
When we see a comet from Earth, what we really see is the dust and gas
the comet gives off. The dust and gas form a fuzzy head called the "coma". They
also form the comet's tails that
are thousands of kilometers (miles) long. The solid part of a comet is
called the nucleus.
The nucleus is in the middle of the coma. The nucleus of Wild 2 is only
about five km (three miles) across. The nucleus is much smaller than
the coma or the tails.
A spacecraft named Stardust flew
by Comet Wild 2 in January 2004. I took some very
nice pictures of the nucleus. It also gathered some dust samples.
It will bring
the dust back to Earth so scientists can study it.
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